With a few old-school events returning to the World Rally Championship, there’s a hint of nostalgia in the air.
The latest event to rejoin the schedule is another vintage classic: Greece’s Acropolis Rally, taking the place of Rally Chile (which has been canned due to potential pandemic disruption) in September.
Like Kenya’s Safari Rally, the Acropolis was always a proper car-breaker, its stages littered with rocks the size of footballs and moon-like craters.
However, unlike the Safari, which has been neutered (rally cars and roaming giraffes no longer mix in today’s polite society), the Acropolis will be just as long and tough as ever.
Even Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called his home WRC round “the Rally of the Gods: an epic annual contest that tested drivers like no other”.
In early September, the usual furnace-like heat of the Acropolis is guaranteed; as typical of the rally as the sizzling plates of roast lamb served up every evening. With the most recent WRC round (February’s Arctic Rally Finland) held in temperatures that dipped to -20deg C, the series is now getting back to the eye-popping extremes that it stands for.
Having attended the Acropolis many times and seen Colin McRae (the event’s most successful driver) win three times on the trot, I have some fantastic memories. It’s definitely a contender for my second-favourite WRC event of all time.
But much sooner – this weekend, in fact – my personal favourite returns. Not exactly, but almost. The Sanremo Rally, Italy’s round of the series up to 2004, has a distinct WRC flavour to it once more, thanks to a new one-day event called the Sanremo WRC+ Rally.
Hyundai’s full factory team will be out in force, running Ott Tänak and Thierry Neuville, and other international stars taking part will include Craig Breen and Oliver Solberg.
For them, it represents valuable asphalt practice ahead of the inaugural WRC Rally Croatia in a couple of weeks’ time. For us, it will be an opportunity to see the fastest rally cars ever made back on some of the world’s most charismatic stages.
We’re talking about mythical tests such as San Bartolomeo, Colle d’Oggia and Vignai, which blast spectacularly through villages precariously clinging to the sides of the Ligurian Alps.
Sanremo is where Sébastien Loeb burst onto the scene in 2001 and where Michèle Mouton took her first WRC win 20 years earlier. A place that created legends, home to the best food and wine on the planet. Yet another rally of the Gods.